Designed in in Romanesque style, by architect Benedetto Antelami, construction began before 1074 and finished in 1178, replacing an older building. The bell tower was rebuilt by Obizzo Sanvitale between 1284 and 1291. Originally the plan was to construct another twin bell tower to the left of the facade, but it was never built.
The central portal has a porch with a round arch, resting on two Corinthian columns.
Each of which in turn is supported by a column-bearing lion.
Internally the Romanesque structure has remained, although most of the interior decorations (central nave, dome, transept) are Renaissance in origin.
The walls of the central nave are decorated with frescoes by Lattanzio Gambara who created them between 1567 and 1573.
There are three bands of frescoes, beginning at the top with allegorical figures in the lunettes. The middle band shows episodes from the New Testament while the band above the arches shows scenes from the Old Testament.
The cupola was frescoed by Antonio Allegri, also known as Correggio, between about 1524 and 1530. On the theme of the Assumption of the Virgin it depicts a dense spiral of clouds ending in a tangle of angels, saints and patriarchs, arranged in several concentric circles. The Madonna is in the middle with Adam & Eve and Saint Joseph on either side. In the center the large yellow light depicts the symbolic presence of God.
The side chapels also have some lovely frescoes.
The apse, has a baroque altar.
The richly carved wooden pulpit is the work of Paolo Froni (1613).
Right next door is the Battistero di Parma (Baptistery of Parma), also probably designed by Benedetto Antelami. Architecturally it is considered to be one of the most important monuments of Medieval Europe because it is one of the few surviving examples of the transition from Romanesque style to Gothic.
It was designed as an truncated octagonal tower, a unique form at the time, and built using pink and white marble. There are six storeys; the first has three Romanesque portals on different sides, the four middle floors have architraved loggias interrupted by buttresses on the corners, while the top floor has a blind gallery of arched windows with Gothic bell towers on each corner.
The lunettes of the entrance portals are decorated with various reliefs, probably by Antelami himself. The central Portal of the Madonna shows the Adoration of the Magi…
…while on the Portal of Judgment there is a depiction of Universal Judgment.
Also at the lower level the building is encircled by a frieze of seventy-five panels carved in bas-relief depicting various animals such as birds, dogs and goats, but also mythical creatures like mermaids, griffins, unicorns, satyrs, hydras, centaurs, seahorses, basilisks and dragons with human heads, amongst many others.
Other reliefs can be seen in niches on the exterior walls.
The most impressive aspects of the Baptistery are actually the painted domed ceiling and carvings inside, however I didn’t get a ticket to go in and see them as they were charging €15 which I felt was a bit excessive. However if you do want to go in, the ticket office is on the other side of the square in the Museo Diocesano at 3 Vicolo Vescovado.
Opposite the cathedral, next to the museum, is the Vescovado or Bishop’s Palace, a Romanesque building constructed between 1045 and 1055 which serves as the seat of the Diocese of Parma.
An ancient, intricately carved wellhead can be seen in the centre of the large courtyard.
Off to the national gallery in the Palazzo della Pilotta next!